A nearly $700,000 fence around Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ residence — formally known as University House — was completed last month, greatly exceeding the initial budget.
With a price tag of $699,000, the fence, which began construction in August 2015, cost more than 2 1/2 times as much as the originally approved $270,000. The fence was first proposed before Dirks took office because of disturbances and “increasingly violent attacks on the house,” according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.
“The house was attacked and people threw burning torches at it,” Mogulof said, referring to incidents that occurred when former UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau occupied the mansion. “There were a number of late-night incursions in and around the house.”
An official summary of the project showed that the first design called for a “short fence behind the hedge at the top of the south stairs.” But because of subsequent increased activity around the house, UCPD recommended a stronger fence with more security features, the summary stated.
Construction of the second design began last summer, but that design was altered in August after then-Academic Senate chair Benjamin Hermalin wrote a letter criticizing Dirks for “seal(ing) off a swath of the campus from the broader community.”
Relocating the fence as well as the security infrastructure already put in place closer to the chancellor’s residence increased construction costs by $200,000, Mogulof said, resulting in the $699,000 final cost.
In November 2015, student activists protesting for workers’ rights marched to the chancellor’s house and jumped over the not-yet completed fence. They proceeded to pound on the chancellor’s door and vandalize the property.
The completed project — designed to prevent such intrusions — includes automatic gates, card readers and cameras for access to the gateways. Additionally, “500 feet of conduits, including electronics” were installed to allow the gates to be operated from within the house, according to the official summary.
According to Mogulof, the project will save money for the campus — despite its inflated price tag — by reducing the cost of security staff outside the chancellor’s residence by $360,000 every year.
“The security staffing for the University House, like many of our security contracts with the campus, are funded by the University as a contract for services,” said UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich in an email.
Some UC Berkeley students, however, see the creation of the fence as more than simply a cost-cutting issue, saying that it shows that campus administrators are trying to avoid activists and protesters.
“It’s ridiculous,” said campus junior Leland Reardon. “If (UC) Berkeley’s administration is afraid of students, maybe it should put some more effort to solving the problems it was hired to deal with instead of putting up fences.”
Contact Karim Doumar at [email protected].